Tom Goodenough

Philip Hammond’s Budget: the newspaper verdict

Philip Hammond's Budget: the newspaper verdict
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Only a month ago, in its damning editorial the Daily Mail said Philip Hammond was a ‘dismal, defeatist, relentlessly negative’ Eeyore. Today, they ‘rescind’ the Chancellor’s nickname, and the paper isn’t the only one to praise Hammond’s Budget:

The Sun says that Hammond delivered his first Budget for its readers. While the paper admits that it has ‘not been kind to his previous efforts’, the Chancellor’s announcement yesterdaywill put more cash’ in peoples’ pockets. His freezes on fuel and alcohol duty go down well with the Sun; and so, too, do the ‘decent hikes’ to the minimum wage and tax-free allowance. It is also good news, according to the paper, that Hammond has rowed back on plans not to prepare for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, by pledging £3bn to prepare for Britain’s departure from the EU. What's more, while the scrapping of stamp duty for first-time buyers has been ‘rubbished’ by the left, it amounts to a ‘decent saving for many’. The Sun concludes by saying that such measures to woo younger voters might be met with cynicism by a vocal minority, but they are – at last – a ‘sign of a Government’ listening to the concerns of millennial voters.

Philip Hammond had an uphill task yesterday. He not only had to ‘convey a confident and optimistic outlook for the country post-Brexit’, but also had to win over his ‘detractors in his own party’. ‘We are pleased to report that the Chancellor achieved’ all of his aims, says the Daily Telegraph. The build-up to a budget has ‘rarely been so low key’, says the paper. But while some have said this meant that Hammond only had a ‘low hurdle’ to overcome, this would ‘be unfair’ on the Chancellor. His measures are likely to prove popular with voters, says the paper. It was clear in making his announcements that Hammond was ‘mindful’ of how his last budget ‘unravelled’, and he did well to make sure that he ‘sidestepped another pitfall by abandoning plans to lower the VAT threshold for small businesses’, suggests the Telegraph. ‘All in all, Mr Hammond confounded his critics and did so in a breezy and occasionally jokey way that disarmed them, too’, the paper concludes.

‘When it came to tax’, says the FT, the Chancellor was obviously ‘careful not to provoke powerful interest groups’. This meant that the ‘few tax increases' that he opted for 'were aimed at relatively soft targets, such as 'diesel cars' or second homeowners’. But this meant that the Chancellor dodged a much-needed opportunity to impose measures that ‘might have been sensible but unpopular’: increasing the amount of VAT paid by small business, for instance. Hammond’s ‘caution is notable’, concludes the paper. Typically, chancellors ‘spend political capital’ soon after an election. But this Tory government is in a different and unenviable position to most other administrations. This means that Hammond was ‘in no position to take risks’. He passed the test yesterday, but in doing so there could still be trouble ahead, warns the FT: ‘Mr Hammond has now spent about half of the funds he set aside as a Brexit war chest. He will have little in reserve’.

The Guardian says the Budget was a ‘missed opportunity’, claiming that  Hammond blew the chance to ‘reset the narrative and build up much-needed political capital with his own side by signalling a new direction about where the government is going’. Yet Hammond did give away something unexpected yesterday, suggests the paper – an indication of ‘how little’ the views of the Tories actually align with those of the wider public. This was made clear in the fact that more money was allocated to preparing for Brexit than extra funds for the NHS; the vague language on the government’s ‘review’ of land banking also shows the Chancellor is not really taking the issue of getting more people on the property ladders seriously. In these bleak economic times, where ‘wages are going nowhere’, Hammond had a chance to ‘seize’ the moment. ‘Yet the Chancellor chose not to change course'. Instead, 'Hammond has plotted a path that will make Britain’s problems bigger and harder to fix.,’ concludes the Guardian.